On Nov. 22 1952, an Air Force C-124 cargo plane crashed into Mount Gannett in Alaska. All 52 members were instantly killed. But 61 years later, a melting glacier is giving up the secrets of that crash.
The investigation is being conducted by the Alaskan Command and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, a division of the Department of Defense that conducts investigations to account for missing Americans..
Doug Beckstead, a historian at Anchorage’s Joint Base Elmendorf-Richardson, told ABC News that investigators immediately went to explore the wreckage but by Dec. 1 of that year, all evidence of the crash had disappeared, submerged into the glacier.
The lack of evidence meant that families were not only left without their loved ones but without any answers as to what happened to them.
“My grandmother just received a letter saying, ‘Your husband was deceased in a plane crash — there was no more information,” Tonja Anderson Dell told ABC News. Dell’s grandfather, Airman Isaac Anderson, died in the crash, and she has spent the past 14 years trying to find out what happened.
But in June 2012, the Alaska Army National Guard’s Black Hawk Unit was on a training flight when a crew member noticed a tire, yellow life rafts and oxygen bottles on the glacier.
“We knew it was an aircraft wreck of some size,” Officer Bryan Keese, who piloted the helicopter that made the original discovery, told ABC News.
Keese and his crew told their boss what they had seen. The unit returned one more time and found human remains. It subsequently turned the investigation over to Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command.
It is working with the Alaskan command. The Alaskan Command searches for the debris and the Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command, or JPAC, looks for human remains.
The 2012 recovery effort lasted nearly a week, according to JPAC, and the team collected more evidence and possible human remains.
Additional layers of the glacier melted away this winter, yielding more possibilities of finding remains. JPAC returned to Alaska last month to continue the investigation said Lee Tucker, a JPAC spokesperson. JPAC concluded its investigation on July 9.
So far, said Tucker, the investigation has yielded human remains and material evidence of the crash. The material items have included hockey pucks, a piece of a raft, a camp stove and pieces of the aircraft.
Tucker said the investigators were testing the human remains and hoped to reveal the identities shortly.
Even after all these decades, the families who lost loved ones are still awaiting answers.
Tara Troy, whose great-uncle William Turner was the navigator on the Air Force plane, grew up hearing about the crash. She told ABC News that when she found out remnants of the plane had been found, ”I almost had the wind knocked out of me.”
“I’m just hoping that someday they will actually find him,” she said. “He’s family. He should be home, and not on some glacier in the middle of nowhere.”